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BMW launches production of fuel cell powertrains

Business news |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

So far, BMW has been more of a laggard in the field of alternative powertrains, even though occasional reports of experimental fuel cell production have surfaced. Now the Bavarian OEM has started manufacturing complete hydrogen powertrains. However, the fuel cells do not come from BMW itself – they are supplied by Toyota.

A small series of the X5 Hydrogen SUV will initially be equipped with the innovative powertrains. The vehicles in this series are to hit the road for testing and demonstration purposes from the end of the current year. Production will take place at BMW’s Munich-based hydrogen competence center. Combined with a specially developed battery, the fuel cell is to deliver a continuous output of 125 kW / 170 hp.

For the X5 Hydrogen version, BMW’s development team has integrated the drive system, consisting of two hydrogen tanks, the fuel cell and the electric motor, into the existing architecture of the BMW X5. During winter testing in Sweden earlier this year, the vehicle already proved its suitability for everyday use in very low temperatures, the automaker said.

According to the manufacturer’s press release, BMW has been working on the development of hydrogen-based powertrains for some time. Even before the fuel cell, the company had already developed and prototyped a hydrogen combustion engine. Because of its low efficiency, the BMW Group decided to continue its development in this area from 2015 with the BMW 5 Series GT Hydrogen Cell based on fuel cell technology. With the know-how from the field of conventional drive technologies and the efficiency requirement for all vehicles, the fuel cell technology has been successively optimized until today.

In the fuel cell, the chemical reaction takes place between the hydrogen from the tanks and the oxygen from the ambient air. In order to achieve a high efficiency of the drive, an even supply of the two media to the membrane in the fuel cell is crucial. In addition to technological analogs to the combustion engine, such as the intercooler, air filter, control units and sensor technology, BMW developers have also devised special hydrogen components for the new fuel cell system. These include, for example, a high-revving compressor with turbine or a high-voltage coolant pump.

The BMW Group is obtaining the individual fuel cells required for the production of the BMW iX5 Hydrogen from Toyota Motor Corporation. The two companies have a long history of cooperation and have been working together on fuel cell drives since 2013. The fuel cell systems are manufactured in two main steps. First, the individual fuel cells are stacked to form a fuel cell stack. In the next step, the assembly of all other components into a complete fuel cell system takes place.

The so-called “stacking”, i.e. the stacking of the fuel cells, is a fully automated process. After the individual components are inspected for damage, the stack is mechanically pressed with five tons of force and fitted with a housing. The stack housing is manufactured in the light metal foundry at the BMW Group plant in Landshut using the so-called sand casting process. In a process specially designed for small series production, liquid aluminum is poured into a mold made of compacted sand molded with resin. The media pressure plate, which supplies hydrogen and oxygen to the fuel cell stack, also consists of plastic and light metal castings from the Landshut plant. The media pressure plate seals the stack housing gas- and water-tight.

Final assembly of the fuel cell stack includes a voltage test and comprehensive tests of the chemical reaction within the cells. Finally, all components are assembled into a complete system in the assembly area. During system assembly, other components such as the compressor, the anode and cathode, the high-voltage coolant pump and the wiring harness are mounted.

At the opening of the small-series production, BMW Group CEO Oliver Zipse and Bavarian Minister-President Markus Söder (pictured) were present.

https://www.bmwgroup.com/en.html

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